I've had some exquisite food at Opus, the Littleton restaurant that's orchestrated by executive chef Sean McGaughey, who took over the burners after opening chef Michael Long departed the fine-dining restaurant to spearhead the kitchen at Aria, which opened in late 2010 in Cherry Creek. Long parted ways with Aria last October (he now co-hosts The Main Course, a food-centric radio show on KEZW), and while Long admitted that Aria "was a challenge," it continued to trudge along. But on Saturday, I got a text that simply read "Opus moving," followed by a second one that read "to Aria."
"Saturday night was our last service at Opus," says McGaughey, who tells me that the restaurant, which resided in Littleton for ten years, shuttered following a breakdown in lease negotiations between Opus's operating partners and the landlord of the building. "Negotiations didn't go well for either party, and it was a mutual decision on both sides to part ways," he explains. And since Aria and Opus are sister restaurants, it made sense, he says, to relocate Opus to Cherry Creek.
The newly conceptualized restaurant will reopen later this week -- McGaughey is shooting for Thursday or Friday -- as Opus and Aria Wine Bar, which McGaughey says will be two separate entities housed under the same roof. "We'll be offering two different experiences, one in the wine bar, and one in the Opus dining room," says McGaughey, adding that his "goal is to really take Opus up a notch, sort of like Frasca or the Little Nell."
McGaughey, like Long, admits that there were bumps at Aria, but he insists that his team from Opus, most of whom have joined him at the new restaurant, along with the current crew at Aria, are working out the kinks. "We're definitely going to focus on service, and we're ironing out the problems that Aria had in the past," he says. "We want to hit the mark the first time with perfect food, perfect service and a tight crew. We're going to try our best to do our best."
The space will undergo a substantial overhaul sometime in the next few months, including a remodeled patio and new furnishings. And unlike Aria, which proffered a casual atmosphere, the new Opus dining room -- like the old one -- won't shy away from stark white tablecloths. And while the kitchen will initially offer a duo of tasting menus coupled with an a la carte menu, McGaughey eventually wants to transition into tasting menus only. "Ideally, my goal is to do away with the a la carte menu and segue into all tasting menus, but that's not set in stone. We'll wait and see how it's received before making a final decision," he says.
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Aria Wine Bar will have a separate menu, he notes, made up of small plates. "The wine bar will focus on lower-priced dishes, and I'm shooting for 22 small plates, some of which will be snacks, while others will be smaller entrees," says McGaughey, adding that both operations intend to offer formidable wine programs. "We'll have all sorts of fun pairing options in the wine bar, where guests can skip around, and the Opus dining room will have the kind of stellar bottle selection that you'd want with a really nice dinner."
Once McGaughey gets the new restaurant and wine bar up and running, he'll have another project in the works: a new restaurant in downtown Castle Rock. "We've nailed down a space, and while my first focus right now is on Opus and the wine bar, our goal is to have that restaurant open by the first of the year," says McGaughey, noting that while he has yet to decide on a name, the two-tiered building, a former spa, salon and event space, will have a similar concept to Opus. "It'll be a fine-dining restaurant with the same concept, but we're looking at a different name and possibly trying to buy the building, as well."
Bad news for Littleton, good news for Castle Rock, and even better news for Denver.